Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taken From Dunwich Review—Not Your Grandfather's Dunwich

One of the more annoying (to my mind) things about Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is they use a lot of names from H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Taken from Dunwich, an adventure for that system (very AD&D-ish, so usable in most OSR games), is a case in point, using the name from Lovecraft story The Dunwich Horror. Just going by the shared name, you probably infer a decayed town of inbred yokels, and possibly something involving the unholy spawn of a human and a horror from beyond.

Nope, instead it's a science fiction adventure more than anything else. The people of Dunwich (a stolid Celtic village, or Keltic as AS&SH likes to call them, even though -wich is an Anglo-Saxon name) are being assaulted by beastmen (voormis from Clark Ashton Smith, renamed "vhuurmis") who carry off the townsfolk. The PCs must help the town, trail the voormis and bring back any survivors.

But wait, you say that doesn't sound like science fiction? Well, much like with Bigfoot in The Six Million Dollar Man, it turns out that the voormis are being controlled by a computer left behind by an alien race (in this case, the Yithians of Lovecraft) in a secret underground base. So basically the PCs must assault that alien base and destroy the computer to free the captives and end the menace.

Taken from Dunwich
seems clearly to be a tournament or convention adventure. There's pretty much zero description of the town itself, nor any real hooks to explain why the PCs are in the area, other than they've been summoned there by a druid. All you get is a NPC who will serve as a guide, and another NPC who will pay to help the village (and despite the supposed Celtic nature of the village, he seems to be Viking) as well as another (a high level Druid) who will bestow the party a deserted settlement to build a domain upon.

There's no outdoor map from the village to the base, but there are some random encounter tables for the journey there.

The base has 15 rooms. The map given isn't a regular dungeon map, instead it's something more of a flow chart - rooms lead from one to another by chutes, rather than simple corridors to walk down. Each room has its own mini-map.

Since movement is done by chutes leading up and down, movement tends to be down because it is easier (since climbing requires gear unless a character can climb like a thief or barbarian) which can quickly lead to the finale of the adventure, at least depending on which path they pick. There's two main branches at the start. One main branch eventually leads to the last room, and the second main branch has two branches, one leading to an off shoot and the other doubling back towards the other main branch. 

Lastly there is an appendix with the new monsters and technological items in the adventure (which you have if you already own AS&SH). Basically the laser crossbow, the Yithian, the Albino Ape, and the voormis.

Taken from Dunwich uses a very old school layout similar to the little books of OD&D. So while it's 16 pages, it's a very short adventure, as opposed to the Advanced Adventure modules which tend to be short, but feature small print and two columns and cram a lot in.

I ran the module using 1e based house rules with a party of 6+1 at the low end of the recommended range (4-6 characters of 4-6th level): A 4th level Paladin, 3rd level Cleric/Ranger, 3rd level MU/Thief, 4th level Bard (Dragon #56, mostly), 4th level Hunter (2e Ranger), 4th level Warlock (my own creation based on an OGL version) and a 2nd level fighter henchman. Most of the fights were somewhat drawn out, as they pit large numbers of voormis (10, 9, and 6) against the PCs.

10 on 7 and 9 on 7 fights can take a while, especially as the voormis have a fairly low AC (4 or 16) and the best to hit of the PCs was +6 (so basically they missed half the time), but then on the flip side, all the PCs had armor classes of 19 (1) or better, which meants the Voormis didn't hit very often, either. Then again, perhaps I erred in not thinking that the voormis qualified as persons under the Hold Person spell, which would have sped things up. But they aren't very smart and have 3+2 hit dice, which seems like too much - most the affected creatures on the list have only 2.

The 9 on 7 fight was very close because one of the Voormis had a laser crossbow that has a rate of fire of 3 and does 1d6+6 damage. On the other hand, this crossbow made the final fight versus the Yithian quite quick, only two rounds. This despite the Yithian having the blink ability. On the other hand, the Yithian almost distintegrated a character who barely made the saving throw exactly. Say what you want about save or die, it certainly is heart pounding.

As sci-fi/fantasy crossover modules go, this isn't bad, but some players will probably chafe at the manner of progression in the module which feels somewhat linear.  Also lot of interior rooms are unoccupied with not much of interest in them — at one point, causing one player to wonder if it was deserted.


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